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Geno Smith, Seahawks defeat Russell Wilson's Broncos, 17-16

Denver's D allowed two long TD passes to tight ends in first half. Wilson kept Denver in the game, but the offense squandered three goal-to-go chances.

SEATTLE — Having bled roughly 2 minutes off the clock while going roughly 20 yards, Russell Wilson and the Broncos' offense reached the 2-minute warning.

This is why the Broncos paid such a huge price to make Wilson their quarterback. He had been a 10-year starter, and a 9-time Pro Bowler, for the other team, the Seattle Seahawks.

An ungrateful lot, Seahawk fans booed Wilson throughout the season opener here Monday on a comfortable September evening before a raucous, sold-out crowd at Lumen Field.

Wilson was not bothered a bit.

"For me personally, I didn't waver,'' Wilson said after his Broncos lost in frustrating fashion to his former team, 17-16. "They may cheer for you, they may boo you, they may -- they'll love you one day and hate you the next. That's sports. At the end of the day, I'm going to keep competing, keep battling. I know who I am first of all.''

He is known as a winner. When all seems lost, Russ will find a way. And yet, his new coach, Nathaniel Hackett, believed his kicker, Brandon McManus, had a better chance of making a 64-yard field goal than Wilson had of picking up a fourth-and-5 from around midfield. The 46-yard line, to be exact.

Back to the situation. The Broncos were down 17-16 at the 2-minute mark, having squandered their previous three possessions that reached inside the Seahawks 5 yard line, only to come away with not three touchdowns but 3 points.

"Just got to be better in the red zone and that starts with me,'' Hackett said. "Got to be sure we have a better plan and are able to get physical down there and score some touchdowns instead of field goals, or nothing at all.''

With the ball at his own 40, Wilson began the other side of the 2-minute break with a 9-yard flip to running back Javonte Williams that picked up a first down. Another short pass to Williams lost 4 yards. Uh-oh. Second and 14 at his own 45. The next pass was batted down. Third down.

Third down and 14 at his own 45, now with 1:11 remaining. Again, Wilson was patient, flipping it to Williams in the left flat. A few busted tackles later and it was fourth-and-5 at the Seattle 46.

Hackett could have called timeout and come up with a fourth-and-5 play. Instead he called on McManus for a 64-yard field goal and let the clock tick down to 20 seconds. Timeout. McManus was brought out for the attempt at a distance he had not made from previously. Really?

"We got the best field goal kicker maybe in the game,'' Wilson said. "I think he has the leg for it for sure. Just went a little left I believe and just -- I believe in coach Hackett. I believe in what we're doing. Believe in everything, and any time you can try to find a way to make a play on fourth and five, that's great, too. 

"Also, I don't think it was the wrong decision. I think he can make it. Obviously hindsight he didn't make it, but we were in that situation again I wouldn't doubt whatever he decided.''

McManus got a practice swing, and missed left, but Seattle had called timeout just before the snap so McManus got a do-over. Better kick, but same result.

"Once you get back that far, especially with a slight breeze right to left, once the ball starts losing velocity I knew it was going to fall left,'' McManus said. "So I wanted to aim it towards the right upright and, you know, it kind of started it down the middle, and it kind of fell off there. I wanted to aim it further right, and it didn’t happen.”

No good. Broncos lose, 17-16. How did the Broncos lose this game? A Broncos team led by Russell Wilson lost to a Seahawks team led by Geno Smith?

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos place kicker Brandon McManus (8) attempts a field goal as Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Al Woods (99) attempts the block during the second half of an NFL football game, Monday, Sept. 12, 2022, in Seattle. The kick went wide and the Seahawks won 17-16. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)

Whatever the Broncos did or didn't do in training camp and the preseason, from here on they need to work on goal-on-go situations.

On three consecutive possessions in the second half, Wilson led his offense to goal-to-go advantages. Instead of 21 points out of those three possessions, the Broncos got 3.

The season opener for both teams was electric, if sloppy. The third quarter was marred by three fumbles -- two at the goal line by Broncos running backs -- the first by Melvin Gordon III on fourth down and the other by Javonte Williams on third down. 

Williams ran into right guard Graham Glasgow, who subbed in for injured Quinn Meinerz who suffered a first-half hamstring injury.

"The second time we were down there and we fumbled it was a pass-abort run and I didn’t know it was aborted,'' Glasgow said. "So that was great. I didn’t know it was a run-block. I was pass-setting. That happens when its 130 decibels out there.”

Said Williams: "I was trying to make something happen. I was trying to get some space from my O-lineman and somebody punched it and I let the ball come loose.”

In the first half, before it made adjustments, the Denver defense was playing as if it was set on fooling Wilson.

As he allowed a trade from Seattle to Denver to happen early this year, Wilson had to have liked the way the Broncos' defense finished 8th in yards allowed and No. 3 in points surrendered in 2021. But defensive mastermind Vic Fangio was fired as head coach and the new Denver defense opened a new year with the look of a undisciplined, coverage-breakdown unit.

Seattle quarterback Geno Smith – Wilson’s backup the previous three seasons -- threw touchdown passes of 38 yards to tight end Will Dissly and 25 yards to another tight end Colby Parkinson and the Seahawks were leading the Broncos, 17-13 at halftime.

Smith finished the first half with 17 completions in 18 attempts for 164 yards and the two touchdowns. There was little pass rush as Smith took no sacks. A fourth-down stop at the Denver 7-yard line early in the second quarter prevented Smith and the Seahawks from scoring more.

“I think for us communication was a big factor,'' said Broncos safety Kareem Jackson, "I think we gave them a lot of wide-open looks. Our first game, not having no preseason game in my opinion played a factor in that. ... We made the adjustments we needed to make in the second half.''

Smith finished 23 of 28 for 195 yards and two touchdowns. Wilson wasn't bad, either, completing 29 of 42 for 340 yards and a touchdown. But victory went to his backup.


Credit: AP
Denver Broncos running back Melvin Gordon III (25) fumbles as he leaps for extra yardage against the Seattle Seahawks during the second half of an NFL football game, Monday, Sept. 12, 2022, in Seattle. The Seahawks recovered the football. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)

Credit Denver defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero for making halftime adjustments. 

Wilson spent his previous 10 seasons with Seattle, mostly as a successful quarterback. To show thanks, Seahawk fans – dubbed “12” as if they are the 12th man – treated him rudely with a constant shower of boos.

No matter. Wilson was 10 of 15 for a robust 206 yards and a 67-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Jeudy at halftime. He was sacked twice. He orchestrated a 2-minute drive to finish the half, a possession that ended with a 40-yard McManus field goal with no time remaining.

“He handled the way we knew Russ would handle it,'' said fullback/H-back Andrew Beck, who was featured prominently on the Broncos' opening drive. "He was very open with us about what his feelings were coming into this game and this environment. He knew and we told him we were going to support him no matter what. Hopefully we showed that. We didn’t get the Dub obviously but hopefully he knows he’s got some guys around him who are going to support him.”

With less than 6 minutes remaining in the second quarter, Wilson had not targeted, much less completed a pass, to any of his wide receivers. Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler were route runners and blockers. But not catchers.

At that point, Wilson had two completions to fullback/H-back Andrew; two to tight end Albert Okwuegbunam and one each to his running backs, Williams and Gordon III.

It was all a set-up.

Down 10-3 and facing third and 3 from his own 33 -- and boos slicing through his helmet holes -- Wilson dropped back and lofted a pass downfield to Jeudy, who had to wait for the ball, but had his man beaten so badly he had time to do so. Jeudy caught it, stepped out of a tackle, sped past another and went all the way for a 67-yard touchdown.

Considering both offenses had their way early, it was a relatively low-scoring first quarter with Seattle on top, 7-3. The Seahawks executed the opening drive as if the Denver defense wasn’t there – and it wasn’t on Geno Smith’s scramble and pitch, 38-yard touchdown completion to tight end Will Dissly, who didn’t get that wide open during grade-school recess.

Wilson was down 7-0 before he took his first snap. But the Broncos marched back one their first possession, with head coach and play-caller Nathaniel Hackett breaking out his secret weapon, fullback-H-back Andrew Beck. Rarely used as a receiver or rusher in his first three seasons with Broncos, Beck opened his fourth season with two catches for 52 yards on his opening drive.

"I was pretty comfortable knowing what I was going to be doing going into the game,'' said Beck, who was highlighted in Hackett's 15-play script with a catch from the fullback position first, then as an H-back. "One thing's that great about this system is all the guys in our room can line up anywhere and move to different spots. It's the beauty and complexity of this system.''

With Williams running well, the Broncos quickly reached the Seahawks’ 18 yard line. But the drive stalled from there and McManus cleaned up with a 30-yard field goal.

Again Smith answered on the next drive, moving 72 yards to the Broncos’ 7. But a fourth-and-1 quarterback sneak was stuffed by Dre’Mont Jones and Justin Simmons and the Broncos took over on downs.

The Broncos moved it on their second possession with Williams rushing for 13 yards around right end on the first play and Wilson completing back-to-back passes to tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, who didn’t start. But crowd-noise motion penalties halted the drive around midfield.

"It was loud, I'm not going to lie,'' said left tackle Garett Bolles.

The Broncos had a staggering 12 penalties for 106 yards. Wilson had his offense reach the Seattle 1 yard line on back-to-back series in the third quarter. But both times the Broncos fumbled the ball away. In the fourth quarter, the Broncos had first-and-goal from the 3 but had a touchdown shovel pass to Beck called back by a motion penalty and they settled for a short McManus field goal.

That only narrowed the score to 17-16, not changed the leader.

"The great things I told these guys is we got to be unwavering,'' Wilson said. "You know, unwavering, unwavering. I thought that obviously the environment is always special here. I've been here for ten years. It was special tonight. I thought the energy, everybody was focused and locked in.

"I couldn't have been more locked in. Just felt like I was on every little detail. Just didn't go our way. Guess what? There are 16 more games to go and there is a lot more football to play. I'm looking forward to what we can do, especially when we get it all together at the same time."

Bronco Bits

Bradley Chubb had 2 sacks in the second half -- his first sacks since the 2020 season. 

“Yeah, it was good to see,'' said Chubb, who was hampered by surgeries on both ankles last year. "Good to have success in the pass game. But at the end of the day, I want to do it for all four quarters. I felt like I just did it for two. I want to get back to being the full, dominant type of guy so I just have to get better from that.” ...

After a strong start, Williams wound up with 43 yards on only seven carries, but he had 11 receptions for 65 yards. Gordon finished as the leading rusher with 58 yards on 12 carries, and added 2 catches for 12 yards. ...

Jeudy had four catches for 102 yards but also had a drop in the final drive. Sutton had four catches for 72 yards. ...

Inside linebacker Alex Singleton, subbing for the injured Josey Jewell, tied with safety Justin Simmons for a team-best 9 tackles.

Credit: AP
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith, left, talks with Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson, right, after an NFL football game, Monday, Sept. 12, 2022, in Seattle. The Seahawks won 17-16. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)

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